Angry AF: How kickboxing helps me deal with my anger

One Latinx finds an outlet for the anger she was afraid to own
By Angely Mercado  Published on 04/02/2018 at 11:00 AM EDT
Dylan Nolte on Unsplash

Thanks to Groupon, I signed up for the “I Love Kickboxing” classes at a gym in Manhattan. Instead of $50, it only cost $30, so I jumped at the opportunity. When I first bought it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had done yoga before, I go to Planet Fitness a few times a week to jog and lift, and have taken free barre or HIIT workouts. But I had never tried kickboxing before.

Unfortunately, I was sick most of 2017, and couldn’t workout as much as I had wanted to. But I began to feel better in the new year, and I realized that my Groupon was going to expire soon. I had lost some strength the year before from being sick and not being as active. I wanted to jumpstart my workouts and thought kickboxing was the way to go.

I arrived early to the first class and was shown around the studio by a very friendly trainer. There was a large mat, an instructor with a headset so that we could all hear her, several students and rows of punching bags with space in between for us to stretch and warm up. It started with an easy jog around the large mat, then became an intense high intensity interval session between the punching bags. And then the drills began.

I learned how to jab, front kick, side kick, and hook. By the end of the second drill, my shoulders and knuckles were sore. My hands were twitching inside of my gloves from all of the punching.

I felt amazing.

My eyes stung from all the sweat I worked up, and the soreness came on a lot faster than I had anticipated. But I was calm–something I hadn’t felt in some time. After class I went home and showered. I air dried my hair. I went about my day getting everything done, but I didn’t feel as anxious as I usually did. I wasn’t in a frenzy to get everything off of my to do list. I easily met my work deadlines and then went for a walk.

It took me a bit to realize that I was relaxed. A lot of my tension was missing. I wasn’t angry.

I’ve always been a bit slow to display anger. As the middle child with a loud sister a year older, and a brother a year younger, I was more of a mediator. They’d yell at each other and have fights, while I’d either separate them or make them apologize for being rude. I almost never started a fight at school or at home. Once, a girl who was mean to me in elementary school eventually stopped after I just tried being nice to her.

But the thing is, I am angry. The problem is, I’m afraid of showing that I’m angry. Movies have portrayed so many women of color as unreasonably angry. If the anger isn’t sexualized, it’s being degraded or used as an insult. I’ve had people tell me that they expected me to be louder, more impulsive, or aggressive because I’m Puerto Rican and Dominican. When I respond to questions about where my family is from, some people just say something like “cool,” or ask questions or share their own backgrounds. But every once in a while someone actually asks me why I’m not “ratchet like those other Hispanics?”

Do you really wonder why I’m angry?

Sometimes my anger adds up until it’s too much. It boils up slowly whenever I see someone who self-describes as a “nice” person disregard the #metoo movement. It happens when I think about the times I’d pitch about immigrants, women of color, or topics that aren’t always given decent coverage to various editors or during my internship, only to have those ideas shot down. Anger flares when I read–yet again–that there isn’t a lot of diversity in media, and that I’m not the only person who has felt uncomfortable being one of the few people of color in some offices. It soars whenever I read about women being passed over for opportunities, of women of color being assaulted, and of how they reported it to HR and didn’t get help.

Before recently becoming involved in online groups that speak out about #metoo and for better opportunities for women, I only really told close friends about certain stereotypical comments I’ve received or tense situations I’ve been in. Some I still kept to myself. I didn’t want to play into the idea of the “spicy, angry Latinx.” I was afraid to defend myself in order to avoid seeming angry.

All of that fear and worry over expressing my emotions went away when I began kicking the hell out of a gym bag.

I need to muster all of my aggression in order to kick as hard as I can. I need to focus my energy so that I can punch and kick accurately, but I also need to focus and use it so that I don’t hurt myself. An instructor tells me to punch harder and to protect my face with my other hand.

The kickboxing bag becomes everything I’ve been pissed about. It becomes the girl in middle school who told me that because I was Hispanic, she expected me to become pregnant in high school and not make anything of myself. It becomes microaggressions I experience every day as a woman of color. It becomes the lady on the train who made a point of standing next to me in 2016 and started speaking badly about Latin American immigrants (I was born in NYC). The bag becomes the man who was with her who didn’t tell her to shut up or remind her that she also had an accent and was an immigrant.  

At the end of my first session, I handed them my credit card and paid for 35 classes. I started calculating how many pitches I’d have to send out in hopes of making that money back.

“It really helps with stress relief!” the instructor told me, as I signed a contract.

I smiled at her.

“Oh, I know.”

I can’t wait to be angry again and let it all out. Even if it’s just for an hour or so.

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